Aqua et panis est vita canis
Original post date: Sunday, March 11, 2007
In English: A dog's life is water and bread.
I thought this would be a good follow-up to yesterday's proverb, which was also about dogs. Today's proverb is about how a dog does not enjoy a very good life, condemned to a diet of bread and water, like some prisoner in a jail.
We still use the phrase in English "a dog's life" to refer to a miserable and desperate life, even though today's pooches are more pampered than many people are! Compare also the phrase "to die like a dog," which means to die a violent or disgraceeful death, without dignity and honor. As the phrases "a dog's life" and "to die like a dog" make clear even in English, dogs do not always have an easy of time of it, trying to make their way as hangers-on in human society.
There is a wonderful English word, no longer in common usage, which also conveys the idea of the hardships of the dog's life: dogsbody. The dogsbody, or dog's body, is someone who has to carry out menial, laborious tasks. At the end of a day's work, the dogsbody would no doubt be dog-tired!
Notice that today's Latin proverb features a strong rhyme: panis...canis. The use of rhyme is a distinctive feature of medieval Latin proverbs. While medieval Latin poetry and proverbs often feature line-end rhyme and various forms of internal rhyme, the use of rhyme was actually avoided in classical Latin style. In English poetry and song-making, the use of rhyme is highly prized (just look at rap music today), which means that in many ways medieval Latin poetry is much more congenial for English-speakers than is the poetry of classical Latin authors!
So enjoy that rhyme when you listen to today's proverb read out loud:
312. Aqua et panis est vita canis.
The number here is the number for this proverb in Latin Via Proverbs: 4000 Proverbs, Mottoes and Sayings for Students of Latin.
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